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One great win doesn't make Ulster a good team, warns Moore

 

Staying focused: Marty Moore is keen to ensure Ulster back up their impressive victory at the Scarlets
Staying focused: Marty Moore is keen to ensure Ulster back up their impressive victory at the Scarlets
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

On and off the field, the past number of seasons have been tough for Ulster.

From a high watermark of 2012-2014, the years since have brought failed attempts to not only kick on and finally bring a first piece of silverware since 2006 back to Belfast, but also to make a return to the sharp end of competitions.

Since Mark Anscombe, the last Ulster coach to lead a side to the European quarter-finals, left the organisation, two PRO14 semi-finals are the sum total of their knockout rugby, the lowest return of any province in that time.

Criticism, both deserved and somewhat sensationalised, has been doled out freely in the intervening years. Indeed, you only need to utter the phrase "basket case" in the corridors of Kingspan Stadium for muscle memory to kick in and a player's eyes to roll skywards.

Reaction to the side's latest outing was naturally different in tone however, their 25-24 Champions Cup win away to Scarlets providing the first signature victory of head coach Dan McFarland's tenure.

Should the win be backed up with another against the same opposition this weekend, then a pool from which progression chances once seemed remote will all of a sudden be wide open and, at worst, a best runners-up spot in the last eight becomes a distinct possibility.

Rather than soak up the praise after a job well done in west Wales, prop Marty Moore has stressed that Ulster will stay on an even keel as they prepare for the return fixture back in Kingspan Stadium on Friday (7.45pm kick-off).

"I don't think as a squad we feel any different," said the former Leinster and Wasps man who arrived at Ulster this summer.

"It was a great feeling to win there. But we don't feel a different team since last week. It's timing. It's a very new group, a very new set-up within the organisation at the moment, myself included. That takes its time for people to fit into the systems."

The parallels to earlier in the season are obvious - if a record thumping at the hands of Munster in September didn't make them a terrible team, a first away win over Scarlets since 2012 doesn't make them a great one.

"I wasn't involved so I can't speak about the mindset of those who played, but that's a very tough thing to come off, a defeat like that," Moore added of that harrowing night in Thomond Park.

"But it's not the end of the world either.

"That was only three weeks after beating the Scarlets here (at home in the PRO14).

"One game doesn't make you a bad team, and one game doesn't make you a good team either.

"We know that and it has to be an emphasis for us as a squad."

One surprising area of emphasis of late has been the set-piece. When this pool began back in October, it was seen as the side's most glaring weakness, one that had to be overcome when they beat Leicester Tigers to kick things off. That was only a week after Connacht came to Belfast and got the shove on too, but of late things are much improved.

Against Cardiff two weeks ago it was the maul that proved the winning of the game, while both it and the scrum were notable strengths against Scarlets.

"It's definitely a step in the direction that we wanted to go," said Moore, whose October return to fitness after a frustrating pre-season calf strain has been a boost.

"We've got a lot of new combinations and players, and even coaches. It takes a while for those mini-groups within the scrum to all come together.

"I think that's starting to stick and glue now, it's starting to pay dividends. It's something we knew that if we stuck with it then it would come. We had the quality in the squad but it was about building those relationships.

"From the first round of Europe to now we've been building on that platform and allowing our backs to show what they can do. Watching the (Scarlets) game back, it was evident how vital that set-piece platform was in opening up the spaces to put them in position. It's a big bonus when we put in that type of performance."

Indeed, while it was outside centre Will Addison who picked up the accolade for man of the match after the win, the former Sale man was quick to praise the performance of the pack, saying moments like Moore earning a scrum-penalty out of Rob Evans were "oxygen" for the rest of the side in a draining contest.

"That's something we speak about in the squad, with our actions we try and energise each other," added Moore. "Especially going to somewhere like Parc y Scarlets.

"We had some great travelling support but we knew we wouldn't have 10,000 people there cheering us on, we knew we'd have to make our own atmosphere.

"That's something we have to do every week. Small or big, we have to make those moments count. If someone does something well, we make sure that they know about it. If forwards go well in the set-piece it lifts people.

"As a forward it's the best thing in the world if after a set-piece you're having to run forward because the backs have got over the gainline. That makes all the difference, the two units building off each other."

While Ulster are in relatively rude health for the game - McFarland is waiting only on Sean Reidy and Ian Nagle - Scarlets yesterday ruled out Leigh Halfpenny, Rob Evans, James Davies and Kieron Fonotia from the trip to Belfast.

A decision on lock Jake Ball, who was a big miss last week, will be made closer to kick-off.

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